Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the ditching of ALM Flight 980. For some, this day will be remembered for the heroism of the rescuers and for gratitude for having survived. For others, this is a day of remembrance.
For the past week, I’ve been going over audio from interviews I did nearly twenty years ago. The audio clips you will hear in this post will take you from just before the ditching to a couple of days after. First up is passenger Rick Arnold.
Rick was traveling with his good friends Gene and Loretta Gremelsbacker. Rick was temporarily knocked unconscious during the ditching. When he came to, Gene was gone. His entire seat had been ripped from the floorboards. He wasn’t seen again.
In this clip, Rick talks about the moments just before the ditching.
If there is one image that will stay with you about this story, it would have to be the image of seeing one or more passengers seated in their seats as the plane is sinking. I’ve heard that story from more than one person. In this audio clip, passenger Israel Kruger tells a similar story of what he saw as the plane went down.
Ask any pilot what their greatest fear is, you won’t hear any answers related to piloting a plane. More than likely it will be related to losing a passenger in an accident. It was that fear that struck captain Balsey DeWitt after he was rescued and brought to St. Croix.
One comment I get a lot from readers is that they all wish there was more information about the two little girls. Me, too. I tried for several years to track down Gloria Caldwell. She lost her two daughters and her husband in the accident. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to see pictures of the two girls. I wanted to know more.
A few years back a relative of Gloria Caldwell found out about the book and wrote to me. He informed me that Gloria had passed away only a year after the accident. He said she died from alcohol abuse.
Here is an audio clip of Assistant Chief Pilot Ed Veronelli talking about his experience arriving at the hospital a few days after the accident to interview survivors.
There were fifty-seven passengers and a crew of six onboard ALM Flight 980. There were forty survivors, one person pronounced dead on arrival at St. Croix, and twenty-two people who are still listed as missing.
The beautiful young woman pictured here is Hedi Razi. She was traveling with her husband Jim Razzi. Hedi was twenty-seven. The whole reason for the trip was to help cheer up Hedi, who had lost a child shortly after giving birth a few months earlier. Jim and Hedi also had a five-year-old girl, Christina, who was not on the flight. I’ve been in contact with Christina since she acted as a go-between with her dad, who did not want to be interviewed. She provided the picture. Hedi is one of the missing.